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How nano-influencers punch above their weight

Woman posting on social media

Not to be confused with micro-influencers, “nano-influencers” are even smaller in size. Their followings on social media number between 1,000 and 10,000, according to most definitions, versus about 100,000 to 500,000 for micro.

“I like to think of nano-influencers as subject-matter experts,” says Suzie Collins, director of digital at Golin. “So if their interest is in fashion, they wouldn’t be posting about every single brand and style, but a niche of fashion such as denim or sneakers.”

Their followings may be dwarfed by top-tier influencers like reality TV star Kim Kardashian, who boasts 144 million followers on Instagram. But what nanos lack in size they often make up for in engagement rates of their sponsored posts. Those rates can be as high as “5% to 10%”, says Collins, versus micros where a good benchmark is at least 2%.  Social media accounts with millions of fans or followers typically generate rates below 1%.

Engagements with nanos are also more valuable than higher tiers because of the purity of those engagements.

“Nano-influencers tend to be speaking to people who really care about what they do and post about. They aren’t being followed just because they are a celebrity and lots of other people are following them,” explains Collins. “And because they have fewer followers, they are able to answer questions, interact and really cultivate a two-way engagement with their audience.”

Suzie Collins

Nano-influencers tend to be speaking to people who really care about what they do and post about. They aren’t being followed just because they are a celebrity and lots of other people are following them.

Suzie Collins

Earlier this year, Lexus partnered with Golin on an influencer campaign to promote its Lexus ES 350 F Sport model.  The campaign includes a series of videos created by six nano- to micro-influencers in dance, athletics, design and videography talking about the parallels between their lifestyle and creative pursuits with vehicle experiences. Those influencers included Chicago-based luxury watchmaker Amy Mokris, who has just over 3,000 followers. Her sponsored post about Lexus generated 314 likes and 62 comments for an engagement rate above 10%.

“We didn’t lead with the thinking that we should partner with influencers who have a huge following,” says Gabe Munch, digital and social media manager for Lexus. “Rather, we wanted to partner with influencers that have authentic stories that align with the interests of the Lexus audience. We wanted to center the focus on connecting with our audience on their playing field.”

On Instagram, the influencers organically sharing the videos and behind-the-scenes photos resulted in more than 37,500 engagements and more than 49,000 video views for Lexus, according to Golin.


The strength nanos can inject into an influencer campaign can’t be underestimated, agrees Crystal Duncan, Edelman Digital’s VP of influencer marketing.

“Their engagements should be considered more valuable and lower in the sales funnel because they are not just ‘likes’ from people who don’t care about the product and only like just the talent,” she says. “They are authentic in nature.”

With nanos, she says “there is also less risk of fake followers as in higher tiers.” Sill, Duncan advises “every influencer be vetted to ensure all their followers are real.”

Despite all their pluses, digital comms pros aren’t suggesting putting all your influencer dollars towards nanos.

“Large influencers – who we should just start calling celebrities at this point – deliver awareness at scale like paid media, which has a very important role,” notes Caleb Bushner, VP, digital strategy at Bateman Group. “Nano-influencers can round out the story with more tailored and authentic content that helps drive relevance that might otherwise be lacking.”

“So broadly speaking, brands should consider nano-influencers when they are searching for a chorus, not a solo performance, or more usefully a chorus to actually complement a lead singer,” he explains.  “With top-tier influencers you’re selecting for volume and celebrity, with nano-influencers you’re selecting for qualified audience and authentic engagement. Combined, a brand can have a comprehensive program that delivers authenticity and scale.”

Bushner has a suggestion, too, for determining whether someone on social media is truly a nano-influencer.

He suggests looking at the day’s news or trends in a given community, and measure which “accounts talk about it, but get minimal reaction, and those where a high-quality conversation emerges among their followers. Those people – who can talk about the same thing but garner actual conversation – are the ones you want to engage for nano-influencer partnerships.”

Brands should also identify potential micro-influencers within their own social media followings, recommend the pros. They note several AI tools can do this.

Pepsi is a big brand that has used nanos to support paid posts with top-tier influencers.

To drive social conversation around new Pepsi emoji bottles at Walgreen stores in the U.S., Pepsi started with top-tier influencers and then syndicated the best-performing content with 40 secondary influencers such as lifestyle blogger Jasmine Diane. She has about 7,000 Instagram followers.

Jim Tobin, president and founder of influencer marketing firm Carusele, which was behind the Pepsi and Walgreens effort, notes, “Even though we analyze each influencer’s past performance and look at things like engagement rate on sponsored content and their saturation rate (what percentage of their content is sponsored), we can’t predict which influencer or which pieces of content are going to be successful.”

“Because of that, we have to analyze every piece of content in real time to see which pieces are performing. It’s usually about 20% to 25% of the content that separates itself from the pack,” he says. “It’s important to have a plan to amplify that high-performing content.”

It is yet another reason nano-influencers should be on every brands’ radar.


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